Good Mama Ru Ru
In the 2016 Blackish episode “Johnson & Johnson”, Ruby is the traditional black Mama trope: matriarch of the family, opinionated, loud and overbearing, judgmental, even diva-esque. Despite this, she shows us that love for family trumps everything, even long held stereotypes and judgments. Here follows the evolution of Ruby, mama of a lesbian.
Ruby, a.k.a. Deaconess
In the beginning, Ruby is a lot to take. She is vocal and obvious in her discomfort with her daughter Rhonda’s homosexuality. She is abrasive and socially awkward with her behavior, and she clearly holds stereotypical beliefs about lesbians. We see it in the flashback of her physically dramatic reaction to finding out Rhonda is gay, where she feigns fainting and screams, “Not gay. No, no, baby. No!” We see it in her concerns about how to prepare for when Rhonda and her fiancée arrive. “You know the lesbians are comin’” she warns nervously. And when the doorbell rings, she yells, “the homosexuals are here!” She is so preoccupied with their homosexuality that it is their identity to her. An entire conversation takes place about the eating habits of lesbians. They love saltines. Or do they? Maybe it’s Triscuits. And tuna. Tuna on toast? Or maybe not tuna. Is it the feminists who love tuna? Are all lesbians feminists? Those tricky lesbians, it’s hard to know. Oh, what to food prepare?!
Ruby also expects for things to go her way, and when they don’t, we know it. We see her fulfill the black mama trope in her dramatic reactions to Rhonda calling her fiancée’s mother “Mama D”. As if having just taken a bullet, Ruby asks in disbelief, “Wait a minute did she just call another woman ‘Mama?!’” When Rhonda does it a second time, Ruby smacks Rhonda with the back of her hand and calls her over to scold her. This is when we learn that Ruby has told Sharon, Rhonda’s fiancée, to call her “Deaconess”, which demonstrates not only Ruby’s self importance and diva tendencies, but also her awkwardness towards Rhonda and Sharon’s relationship. In this scene, Ruby really enforces norms for both loud, self-important black women and the sensitive but vocal black mama who expects her children to put her on a pedestal.
Ruby, a.k.a. Mrs. Ruby Johnson
It becomes clear early in the episode that Ruby is trying to accept her daughter’s relationship, and therefore her homosexuality. She worries about what food to prepare since she is “just trying to make the lesbians feel more comfortable when they get here.” She tries (and often fails) to overcome her stereotypical mindset towards lesbians, saying things like “I’m not going to ask which one of you drove or if it was in a mid-sized sport utility vehicle, because it doesn’t matter”. Accordingly, she attempts to build a better relationship with Sharon, greeting her at the door (though it takes the form of a formal, stiff handshake) and trying to have a one-on-one conversation with Sharon. Sure, all Ruby does is name all of the celebrity lesbians she can think of, but hey, she is trying! Her effort and struggle is most visible when Ruby tells Sharon that she can call her “Ruby… Johnson… Mrs. Ruby Johnson… Mrs. Johnson.” It’s a step up from “Deaconess”, but obviously shows Ruby’s continued discomfort with the relationship. Here, we see Ruby continue to enforce the norm of traditionalist black mama, but a shift is occurring as she attempts some humility while she changes her mindset.
Ruby, a.k.a. Good Mama Ru Ru
Ultimately, Ruby does succeed in changing her mindset, at least enough to welcome Sharon to the family. It is by no means a graceful transformation, but that’s what makes this episode so great. After all, such evolutions are never graceful in real life either. Despite vocalizing numerous lesbian stereotypes and showing clear discomfort with seeing her daughter and fiancée be affectionate towards each other, Ruby ultimately tells Sharon to call her “Good Mama Ru Ru.” It’s not “Mama”; a child should only honor her own mama with that title (the trope continues). But it’s a vast improvement from the distant and ridiculous “Deaconess”, and an endearing and personal step up from the formal “Mrs. Johnson.”
In just 21 ½ minutes, we see Ruby transform from Deaconess, to Mrs. Ruby Johnson, to Good Mama Ru Ru. In witnessing this transformation, the viewer receives the message that stereotypes and labels don’t matter in the long run; family matters. And so does acceptance. Combine Ruby’s traditional Christian beliefs with her diva-like qualities, loud ways, and mama bear persona, and you’ve got a pretty stereotypical black mama. But that’s ok, because she is relatable, and there is truth in her character. I know some real-life Rubys. And one of the most impressive things about Blackish’s Ruby is that she would do anything for her family, even if it’s tough. Altering our long-held beliefs is definitely tough, but if Ruby can do it for her daughter, then others can, too.
In the end, this episode of Blackish is quality media, and not just because it’s funny. Sure, it entertains. Ruby makes us laugh out loud throughout the entire episode. But Blackish also comments on important social issues, ultimately sending messages about family unity and acceptance that will positively impact viewers’ values. In a society that increasingly views traits like fame, popularity, and financial success in high regard, we could use a few more models of wholesome values like this.